Alex HamiltonIf you choose to write several novels, as against dozens or just one, you need to rely on yourself and your dog, not agents or publishers, who may be fickle.

Marry if you must, but to somebody who doesn’t grudge space to more than ten books in the house (saying 'Facebook’s now the only book') and doesn’t mind Somerset Maugham’s advice to novelists to see the world. Some, like Jane Austen, think the world is best seen from one window, but I wouldn’t bank on that.

Books to distract you and cheer you on? Gilbert’s The World’s Worst Aircraft; Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang; Hume’s All the Best Rubbish; Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk; Arrowsmith’s Field Guide to the Little People; Andrews’ Life that Lives on Man; Sutherland’s Last Drink to LA; plus Cony-Catchers and Bawdy Baskets (ed Gamini Salgado).

Anything, that is, except modern fiction. Leave that until you’ve published something that works. Poetry’s OK.

So, your first novel has a modest success. 'Well received.' It can be found in Daunt’s, (who stock everything) and Waterstone’s (who don’t). You’re invited to your publisher’s annual fling. Abounding with agents, multi-novel writers, men buttling drinks, women buttling little dods of savoury. And the press, jovial. Take care. Philip Oakes of 'Atticus' once said, 'It’s not our job to help the competition into the boat.' And he was a nice man.

Expect yourself to write four or five in the next 20 years, but write the second before you’re forgotten. This is the big one, dead serious. Human condition. Disturbing implications. Treat yourself to 700 pages, awkward to read in bed but impossible to ignore. This one will sell your next when it arrives eight years later with a completely different subject.

Well done. You’re a proven writer of Several Novels. You can stop travelling, except perhaps to America. Take some modernish fiction.  Pack five novels, total weight 800gms: Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse; Voinovich’s The Ivankiad; Murnane’s The Plains; Brautigan’s The Hawkline Monster; Ashford’s Where Love Lies Deepest. Written when she was 12. Super.

Now dig out your own bag of kid stuff. Wow! You were good then!

About Alex: Guest blogger Alex Hamilton is an award-winning travel writer. He contributes articles ‘The growth of travel guidebooks’ and ‘One hundred years of fiction bestsellers’ for the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. Click here to buy the 2011 edition at a discount »